So far in 2017, eight Cuenca Citizen Guards have required hospitalization following attacks by informal, or unlicensed street vendors, in the historic district and at city mercados.
The guards, who are unarmed and concentrated in the city’s tourist areas, are responsible for monitoring the activities of street sellers and keeping sidewalks open.
“All we do is tell them to move on,” says guard Karla Inga. “We don’t arrest them. Almost every day, we are insulted and spit on for doing our jobs and sometimes they start pushing and shoving.” The areas where are most confrontations occur, she says are around Parque Calderon, the Ninth of October market and at the giant Feria Libre, on Cuenca’s Westside.
“All of us have scratches and bruises from dealing them (the informal vendors),” she says. “A friend is still being treated for a broken cheek bone when someone threw a rock at him.”
Following an incident on Monday at Parque Calderon, where two vendors were taken by ambulance to the hospital with facial cuts, Citizen Guard Commander Felipe Camacho says new rules are being implemented to reduce the violence. “Now, the guards will call the National Police at the first sign of trouble,” he said. “In the past, we have tried to reason with the sellers but this often doesn’t work. We don’t have the authority to arrest,” he said.
According to Camacho, most of the trouble comes from vendors from out of town. “We signed an agreement with the local sellers and they agreed to follow the rules and I think most of them do,” he says. “It’s not fair to those who follow the law, who rent market space and are licensed, to allow informal activity. Another problem is that informal sellers block sidewalks and restrict access for pedestrians.”
The informal vendors claim the laws restrict their ability to make a living. “The streets belong to everyone and if we’re not allowed to sell, we cannot feed four families,” said a woman from Paute who sells fruit in the historic district. “When the police try to stop us, they are violating our basic human rights,” she added.